The issue with detail-addicted executives
I frequently hear this issue from mid level managers:
What do I do when my boss requires even more detail than I do? and knows more detail than I do? I’m afraid of losing credibility if I’m not as detailed as my boss.
If your boss is addicted to detail, first and foremost, know that their addiction to detail is not the way to be an effective executive.
And know that your best way to add value is not to compete with your boss on detail.
As an executive, if you expect everyone at every level to be immersed in all the detail, you are crippling the organization’s ability to execute. If for no other reason, it just takes too much time.
Detail should never move up in an organization, it’s a waste of time.
Detail should stay down. Insights should move up.
But what can you do when your boss is torturing you and making you feel like you are not competent (and not valued) if you can’t compete with him on detail?
Here are 4 ideas.
1. Connect your boss with your team
This is a good idea anyway, but it also allows you to …
Act as the broker of the detail not the owner.
Never be the one to personally carry detail upward.
Remember even though you are getting pressure, insight and action are what add value – moving detail upward does not add value, it just satisfies your detail-addicted boss’s appetite — for a moment.
Give them their detail by encouraging them to talk to the people who work in the details directly
This provides them their details, and gives your team members a chance to shine.
If they tell you directly, “I expect you to be the one who knows the details”, I know this can be very stressful and frustrating.
I used the additional strategies below to deflect this, because I believed very strongly that this way of managing is wrong…and, I could not satisfy the need for detail!
2. Use the detail as the hook to up-level the conversation
If your boss asks you a question about a detail in a very precise way, instead of panicking because you think you need to respond directly at a matching level of detail, think about what that detail signals, and try to raise the level of the conversation to something else, but based on that detail.
For example, instead of responding on the merits or status of the XY23 sub process, say, “It sounds like you have a concern about how we measure quality, is that correct?”
Then follow on with some value added discussion about how we tested 3 options and decided that the lowest risk and most cost effective way to deal with how we measure quality is to first focus on the client service interface.
If you can be versed enough in the detail to know what that particular detail is associated with, you can use that association to raise the level of discussion to be of something more valuable, and stay on more solid ground during the conversation.
This was a life-saver for me, and it worked because I was able to make the conversation more important.
Even if I lost points on detail, I did not lose all credibility because I was still driving an important conversation.
3. Focus on the Desired Outcome
Another way to raise the level of discussion is to be very outcome focused. If you can focus the conversation around the outcome itself, the discussions and resulting actions will naturally gravitate to a less detailed, more strategic level.
“I think what you are getting at with that [detail question] is whether or not we will create [this specific] outcome.”
“Can we take a minute to talk about the importance of [this outcome], what happens if we do not achieve it, and the things I see that might put us at risk.”
4. Just deliver instead
If you have a detail addicted executive, conversations will always be challenging and uncomfortable, but the three ideas above can actually go a long way to make this better — especially if you continue to deliver real value.
I have used these techniques to build my credibility with my boss when I refused to become deeply versed in the detail because I knew it was not adding value, and the drive for detail was actually putting the key outcomes I was on the hook for at risk.
I was never going to care about the detail as much as my boss did and I frankly wasn’t capable of the deep dive.
So I focused on delivering AND I needed to use these techniques.
It did not remove all the uncomfortable conversations, but by disappointing my boss in some conversations, but still delivering consistently on important outcomes, I was able to build my credibility and get away with fewer detailed conversations as time went on.
What do you think?
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)